Data laws a scheme for spooks: legal expert

A LEADING legal expert has warned the Abbott Government's proposed data retention laws lack political accountability, describing it as a laissez faire scheme for the nation's spooks.

The scheme would force telecommunications firms to retain an as-yet-undefined set of metadata about all Australians' online and telephone activity for up to two years.

While intelligence agencies and police authorities have pushed for the scheme, civil liberties groups, legal experts and others have voiced concerns about the bill's effects on privacy.

Constitutional law expert Professor George Williams was one of several witnesses before a parliamentary committee hearing on the laws on Friday.

He told the committee the type of information that would be retained was "exactly the sort of information that should be subject to some sort of warrant regime".

Under the proposed laws, intelligence agencies would not have to apply for warrants before accessing data, which Prof Williams described as a self-service regime and laissez faire system for intelligence agencies.

Prof Williams also warned there was "an absence of political accountability" under the current bill, and without such oversight, the scheme needed to be scaled back.

"The lesson I get is oversight can't fix this bill - the problem is the bill is so broad, the information that can be sought is so broad that oversight can't work unless you tighten (the definitions)," Prof Williams said.

He was among numerous groups that urged the committee to recommend to parliament the definitions of metadata are also defined in the legislation, rather than in regulations.

The journalists' union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance also called for exemptions for reporters, especially those involved in investigations, and for the regime to be scaled back.

But police authorities and intelligence agencies told the committee such data was essential for major criminal and terrorism investigations.


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